(PHOTO: Callaway senior offensive lineman Rod Taylor) The high school playoffs are in full swing this Friday with all classifications now in playoff mode. The MHSAA is three weeks away from crowning state champions at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, and the MAIS is a week away from title games at Mississippi College. These are our picks for all the games this week with previews of ten games.
Northwest Rankin (4-7) at South Panola (11-1)
Senior tailback Curtis Hicks rushed for 203 yards as Northwest Rankin punched their ticket to the playoffs with a 35-28 win over Murrah to end the regular season. Hicks has been solid this year but the Cougars have struggled offensively, scoring the third fewest points (162) in 6A. South Panola, the state’s top-ranked team, is second in 6A with 397 points and has allowed just 174 points. Junior running back Darrell Henderson leads all 6A rushers with 1,749 yards, adding 20 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Rip Kirk has 13 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Senior end Matthew Davis leads the team with six sacks.
Grenada (9-2) at Starkville (8-3)
Grenada is second in the state and leads all 6A teams averaging 349 yards rushing per game, more than 71 yards more per game than second place Petal. Junior Kesner Spencer leads Grenada with 1,168 yards rushing but two other players have also rushed for over 600 yards. Grenada senior linebackers Shareef White and Genard Avery are both committed to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and have combined for 156 tackles. Starkville quarterback Princeton Jones has thrown for 1,790 yards and 19 touchdowns, and has rushed for 322 yards and another 11 scores.
DeSoto Central (7-5) at Madison Central (8-3)
Warren Central (8-3) at Tupelo (10-1)
Harrison Central (7-4) at Brandon (10-1)
Meridian (8-3) at Gulfport (9-2)
Meridian put together an 8-3 regular season for the second straight year after going 52-5 from 2008-11. The Wildcats won their final three games in blowout fashion, including a 45-21 win at Petal. Senior safety C. J. Hampton is one of the nation’s top safety prospects and is committed to Ole Miss. Junior J’Mar Smith passed for 1,915 yards and 16 touchdowns to go with 335 rushing yards and nine more scores. Richard McQuarley is the top ground-gainer with 778 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Corey Davis is one of the better tight ends in the state and has 570 yards receiving. Gulfport is led by quarterback Thad Miller, one of two quarterbacks selected to play in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Classic. Miller led all 6A quarterbacks with 2,873 passing yards and 31 touchdowns with 13 picks. Senior Jevon Floyd led all 6A wideouts with 1,048 receiving yards and 12 touchdown while younger brother Richaud Floyd led 6A in receptions with 73. He finished with 934 receiving yards and 10 scores. The Gulfport defense surrendered 293 points this year, the second most of any 6A playoff team.
Petal (9-2) at D’Iberville (9-2)
Petal has a combined 31-9 record the last three seasons and has reached the playoffs for six straight years. The Panthers rolled early this year but midseason injuries derailed a team that was the third best rushing team in 6A with 3,049 yards. They returned several injured players in last week’s blowout victory at Terry. Senior Tyus Raine is third in 6A with 1,546 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. James Milledge added 738 yards on the ground. Junior Javon Patterson is one of the best junior offensive linemen in the nation. D’Iberville won their final four games of the season by an average of 25 points per game to clinch the region 4 crown. Senior running back Quantrell Reddix rushed for 1,210 yards this season. Quarterback Jo Jo Warrick passed for over 1,000 yards and added another 482 rushing yards.
Hattiesburg (4-7) at Oak Grove (10-1)
Vicksburg (6-5) at Oxford (11-0)
West Point (7-4) at Pearl (10-2)
The Green Wave and the Pirates meet for one of the more interesting first round playoff matchups in 5A. West Point is making their 13th consecutive trip to the playoffs but they haven’t opened the playoffs on the road since 2008. They are led by arguably the top running back in the state in senior Aeris Williams. The Mississippi State commit has rushed for 2,033 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Pearl counters with Jordan Wright, one of the top junior running backs in the state, but he left last week’s game against Callaway early due to injury. Wright has rushed for 1,511 yards and 27 scores. Sophomore quarterback Ladarius Carpenter has thrown for 2,242 yards and 17 touchdowns, and rushed for eight scores. Senior wideout Demorrious Brown caught 51 passes for 1,054 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Saltillo (8-4) at Callaway (12-0)
With an unbeaten season, Callaway lived up to the preseason hype that came with four seniors headed to play in the SEC. Tackle Rod Taylor is among the best offensive line prospects in the country, and defensive end Breeland Speaks turned in a terrific season with 24 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Ronald Walker led the team with 100 tackles at safety, and Dayall Harris is a deep threat at receiver. The team rushed for 3,096 yards ranking second in all of 5A. Saltillo will ride junior tailback Diamante Pounds who rushed for a 5A best 1,943 yards and 20 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Tyler Tollison tossed nine touchdowns and ran for ten more.
Ridgeland (7-4) at Clarksdale (6-4)
Gautier (6-5) at Wayne County (9-2)
West Jones (7-3) at Picayune (8-2)
Brookhaven (8-3) at Pascagoula (10-1)
Stone (6-5) at Laurel (10-1)
Cleveland (7-5) at Byhalia (4-6)
Kosciusko (7-5) at Rosa Fort (10-1)
Greenwood (10-1) at Lafayette County (7-5)
Ripley (11-1) at Noxubee County (8-3)
Noxubee County has reached the playoffs in 13 of the last 14 seasons, and is the defending state champion in 4A. The Tigers graduated a large senior class from last year and lost three of their first five games with a young team. But they’ve won six in a row entering the playoffs and have scored 30 or more points in four straight games. The leading rusher is Shannessy Sherrod with 329 yards, but as a team Noxubee only rushed for 1,659 yards. The defense is led by linebacker Eric Hunt and sophomore end Jeffery Simmons. Ripley senior quarterback Dalton James led the Tigers to an 11-1 record with 2,325 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, both of which rank 2nd in 4A. Senior Christian Johnson totaled 1,465 yards and 17 rushing scores. The only loss was a narrow 33-27 decision at Rosa Fort.
Purvis (9-2) at Quitman (7-4)
Vancleave (6-5) at Magee (9-2)
Forrest County (9-2) at Columbia (9-2)
St. Stanislaus (11-0) at Greene County (6-5)
North Pontotoc (9-3) at Kemper County (9-3)
Aberdeen (7-5) at Charleston (10-1)
Cleveland East Side (9-3) at North Panola (7-5)
Water Valley (11-1) at Louisville (12-0)
Louisville put up ridiculous statistics this year during a 12-0 season in which they were rarely challenged. They outscored opponents 467-53. Senior quarterback Wyatt Roberts was selected as one of two quarterbacks to play in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Classic and threw for 1,895 yards and 25 touchdowns. Senior Desmond Goss averaged almost 20 yards per catch with 809 receiving yards and 14 scores. Junior Dontae Jones will be one of the state’s top wide receiver recruits next season. Senior linebacker Jeremy Sangster leads the defense with 113 tackles and 22 tackles for loss. Water Valley won at least 10 games for the fourth straight season and had 3A’s most explosive offense with 494 total points. The Blue Devils’ offense had balance with 1,447 passing yards and 2,645 rushing yards. Senior E. J. Bounds threw for 1,383 yards and 18 touchdowns. Three players ran for over 500 yards led by Bounds with 772 yards and 26 touchdowns. Water Valley is riding a five-game winning streak.
Wilkinson County (9-3) at Philadelphia (11-1)
Seminary (9-3) at SE Lauderdale (5-7)
Forest (9-3) at Hazlehurst (11-1)
Collins (9-3) at Tylertown (7-5)
Baldwyn (9-3) at Bruce (7-3)
Eupora (8-2) at East Union (8-3)
Mantachie (10-3) at West Bolivar (8-3)
Calhoun City (8-3) at Walnut (10-3)
East Marion (10-2) at Lake (11-0)
Mize (8-4) at Leake County (10-1)
Union (8-4) at Bassfield (11-1)
Taylorsville (10-2) at Scott Central (6-5)
St. Aloysius (7-4) at Coffeeville (8-3)
Hamilton (8-3) at Mound Bayou JFK (8-3)
Falkner (7-4) at Broad Street (8-2)
Shaw (7-4) at Smithville (8-3)
Lumberton (6-5) at Noxapater (8-3)
French Camp (7-5) at Bogue Chitto (9-2)
Nanih Waiya (7-4) at Stringer (10-1)
Hinds AHS (8-4) at Pelahatchie (8-2)
MAIS AAA, DIVISION 1
Presbyterian Christian (8-4) at Jackson Academy (9-2)
Jackson Academy was unbeaten on the field this year with the only two blemishes a pair of forfeit losses for using an ineligible player. A talented defense allowed only 83 points all year, and only 45 points against MAIS teams. Senior linebacker Hayes Walker led the team with 86 tackles. Junior end K. C. Lucious had 16 tackles for loss. Senior Duncan Maxwell led the offense with 1,270 rushing yards and an average yards per carry over ten. Nick Conley passed for 983 yards and 17 touchdowns, and Daniel Kennedy rushed for 524 with 15 touchdowns.
MRA (8-3) at Jackson Prep (10-2)
This is the most interesting MAIS playoff matchup of the week by far. MRA managed to beat Jackson Prep in the 2010 playoffs to reach the title game but those wins have been few. This year’s squad is one of the more talented MRA squads, led by Mississippi State commit Sean Rawlings up front. Senior quarterback Caleb Shufelt threw for 1,955 yards and 17 touchdowns with just three picks. Zack Everhart averaged over seven yards per carry with 734 yards. Jackson Prep has already beaten MRA this season, a 19-13 affair midway through the season. Prep outscored opponents 410-150 and surrendered just 103 points to MAIS opponents. Junior Gene Wood passed for 1,212 yards and 12 touchdowns with two interceptions and rushed for nine scores. As a team, Prep rushed for over 2,000 yards with 33 touchdowns, led by Ian McGraw’s 776 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior Zach Williams led the team with 22 catches for 452 yards. Junior end Trace Lovertich led the team with 116 tackles and eight tackles for loss.
MAIS AAA, Division II
Oak Forest (7-5) at Magnolia Heights (8-2)
Heritage Academy (8-4) at Lamar School (9-3)
Indianola Academy (11-1) at Simpson Academy (11-1)
Glenbrook (LA) (9-3) at Centreville Academy (11-1)
Cenla Christian (LA) (9-3) at Trinity Episcopal (11-0)
Benton Academy (10-2) at Marshall Academy (11-1)